WorkSafe reviewing silica levels

28 Aug 2019

Silicosis lung

An image from a WorkSafeBC video showing how silica dust can scar and damage lungs.


Due to concerns about silicosis WorkSafe is looking at a proposal to lower the level of  silica dust that workers can be exposed to.

The current Workplace Exposure Standard (WES) for the dust, technically known as respirable crystalline silica (RCS), is 0.1mg/m3 over an 8-hour time-weighted average concentration. The proposal is to lower the New Zealand standard of RCS  to 0.05mg/m3.

 The reason for the review is the growing number of stoneworkers developing silicosis in Queensland and Victoria. Many of them have been working on kitchen benches made from  artificial stone which has high levels of silica. When being cut or polished this becomes a very fine dust that can scar lungs and the only current treatment for silicosis is a lung transplant. [This recent story from shows the extent of the problem.]

 Following the review the agreed workplace exposure standard will be published in the on-line version of WorkSafe’s Workplace Exposure Standards and Biological Exposure Indices due out in November.

Site Safe’s chief executive Brett Murray says the organisation is behind any initiative that will protect workers’ health, particularly from silicosis, which is hugely debilitating.

“Site Safe supports any changes to internationally accepted standards that reflect the concerns about the health effects of respirable silica.”

 WorkSafe has also begun visiting workplaces that work with artificial stone benchtops, sometimes called engineered stone benchtops. These are often made of crushed stone and polymer resin and can have a silica content of up to 95 per cent, as compared to much lower rates for natural stone such as granite which has between 20 and 60 per cent and natural marble which is often below 5 per cent.

WorkSafe says the visits will make sure firms are aware of the risks,  have adequate protection for their workers and will identify any fixes that are required.

 The visits are planned to be done by the end of the year and the information collected will help WorkSafe to gauge the extent of possible exposure to silica dust.

 Julie-Ann Mail, Work Safe’s Engagement and Implementation Team leader, says anyone with concerns about accelerated silicosis should visit its website and record their details so they can be updated as more information becomes available.

 “Our strong advice to anyone involved in cutting, grinding or polishing engineered stone is to take all possible steps to avoid exposure to dust generated through these processes,” she says.

 There is detailed information to assist available on the WorkSafe  website here.

This includes updated and developed online quick guides titled:

  • Controlling dust with on-tool extraction.
  • Silica dust in the workplace.
  • 8 key things for workers to know – Controlling silica dust in the workplace.

 A brief video from WorkSafeBC in Canada on silicosis and what it does to lungs is here.